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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. mad max fury road

Since everyone is busy drawing amazing pictures of Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max - Fury Road, I thought the world needed a very bad drawing of the Doof Warrior:



And here is an article about the actor who play the Doof Warrior. I saw the film last week and it's hilarious, I loved it.



Some Doof soundtrack for you (for ambiance) and here's Philip Reeve's film review.



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2. dinosaur police: getting ready

It's so exciting having a picture book launching right now, but getting the word out about it is a real team effort! Here's my friend, the sculptor Eddie Smith, turning his hand to millinery to make my hat for my event at the Hay Festival this Thursday. I think it will just about fit in my enormous suitcase. Maybe! We'll see.



And wonderful Ghanaian tailor Esther Marfo has been sewing my dress, from some wonderful African material I found in a shop near my studio. I love walking into her tailor shop: so much colour and amazing patterns everywhere.



So, see you at my first Dinosaur Police event, if you're at the festival in Wales. A brand-new event for a book is always slightly nerve-wracking, but my fab publicist Dave Sanger is going to help me when we sing the new Dinosaur Police song, and I got help with that, too: Philip Reeve wrote the lyrics and Sarah Reeve wrote the music and found some ukulele chords I could manage to play. I need help, I just make books, but there's so much more to telling people ABOUT those books!



In the meantime, it's great seeing what other people are getting up to. Check out these wonderful pictures tweeted by Mercedez Ortiz (@Literati101)!



Mercedez has set herself a great project. Here's what she writes on her blog:

There are no illustration courses in my city, and I couldn’t decide on what books to pick or which online classes could offer me the training I need. Not knowing where to start, I was sketching everything I saw, picking tips and tidbits of information here and there, drawing like a headless cucaracha. No matter how hard I tried, I knew all that wasn’t taking me anywhere.

Fortunately, on January I found The Guardian’s How to Draw… series, with piles of easy to follow step-by-step guides, prepared by some of the most amazing children's book illustrators in the world, and that treasure-trove inspired me to come up with this project!

The Project: Every day for a year, from February 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016, I will make an illustration inspired on what I’ll learn from each of these guides, doing some crazy experiments based on such lessons, and post the resulting illustration on this blog.

I’ll try to find my style throughout the whole project, which means that I’ll be trying to add my own flavor to the illustrations, besides exploring and experimenting with different materials and techniques.




Isn't that terrific? Here's her drawing based on my Trevor the T-Rex doing the Charleston, and Astra, from my 'How to Draw Astra' sheet on the Cakes in Space webpage.

I love it when people don't wait to be assigned art projects and actually go looking for them. That's pretty much what it was like when I studied for my Master's Degree at Camberwell art college; the people who waited around to be told to do things didn't get very far, and the people who excelled were the ones who grabbed every opportunity. They weren't so worried about good marks: they were looking for holes in their experience and skills, and how they could find ways to plug those holes with training and practice, wherever they could find it. Mercedez looks like one of those people, setting herself projects and going for it.

And here are two more plugs for my BIG OFFICIAL DINOSAUR POLICE launch day! Saturday, 6 June, mark your diaries!

* Storytime and drawing fun at Dulwich Books at 11am (see their website for details).

* A big party with snacks (and a bit of bubbly for the grownups), story, drawing and music at Tales on Moon Lane at 2pm! (Here's their events website).

Be sure to pre-book, and hope you can come along! Here are the two different event posters:



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3. our lady of the bogus wifi

Here's a drawing based on a medieval painting at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Great museum! I wasn't so taken with their modern art, but the old stuff was grand.



(Here's our lady peeking at the original painting.)

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4. schwupp und weg: reeve & mcintyre hit frankfurt

Look! Seawigs have reached Germany! Here are some young rambling isles who we met last week at the European School in Bad Villbel, near Frankfurt.



Dressler, our German publisher, had asked us to go and visit some international schools to spread the word about Oliver and the Seawigs, or Schwupp und Weg as it’s known in those parts.






Our main host was Stephanie von Selchow who is the librarian at the European School in Frankfurt.



She’d arranged for us to do two sessions there, for her own students, and a visiting class from Textorschule, Sachsenhausen. A lot of the kids had already read Oliver and the Seawigs, so after we’d talked a bit about it we went on to Cakes in Space, which has just been published in Germany as Kekse im Kosmos. Most of the audience spoke good English, and it seemed to go down well... of course, some of the show needs no translation; the bit where I hit Philip over the head with a mandolin case goes down well in any language.



That afternoon we had a quick wander around Frankfurt, and tried to draw some of the odd but attractive nobbly linden trees which line the riverside.



They're quite tricky trees to draw, and I'd love to have another try at them. One of the school kids had a picture of this kind of tree in his Oliver and the Seawigs artwork and he got the funny shape of it just right.



Then it was off to the Literaturhaus restaurant, where we had dinner with Stephanie and some of her colleagues from ESF and other schools.



As you can see, it was very grand, and the food and company were first-rate.



The next morning we were picked up by Manuela Rossi, who whirled us down the Autobahn to Bad Villbel, where we talked Seawigs and Cakes to some of the students of the European School Rhine Main.



Utte, the librarian there, showed us some of the great artwork the children had produced, including this fantastic tower of houses. It looks a bit like a Traction City out of Philip’s Mortal Engines books.



Most amusing question of the day: Where did you get those GIGANTIC SHOES?



Then it was back on the Autobahn to yet another international school, Accadis in Bad Homburg.



We’d met Samantha Malmberg and Caitlin Wetsch from the school at the previous night’s dinner, so it was good to see them in their natural surroundings, and meet their students, who were VERY EXCITED TO SEE US.
Some of the classes had done whole whole projects on Oliver the Seawigs, complete with some great drawings.



And after that we had a little bit more time to mooch around Frankfurt...



...in the guise of Mitteleuropean crime-fighting duo Peek & Cloppenburg.



Strange things were going on in Frankfurt city centre. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that the shopping mall was being devoured by a wormhole…



But we discovered a natty German-style TARDIS and were able to save the day.



And we both found excellent covers for our pop albums, should we ever find time to write and record them. Here’s Philip, waiting for the Trans-Europe Express…



Heaven knows what mine is going to sound like.



But whatever it is, it will be lovely: some things are Better Than Perfection.



Thanks to Stephanie, Utte, Sam and all the staff and volunteers who helped to make our visit to Frankfurt so enjoyable. We were very sad to leave!

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5. dinosaur police: 6 june south london mini tour!

I told Trevor the T-Rex to put on his party clothes for the upcoming launch of Dinosaur Police ...I quite like his style, I might copy it sometime!



Normally Trevor is bumbling around Dinoville in his yellow-and-white-polkadot pants. Here's how to draw him, if you get the urge! (More downloadable drawing activities over on the new Dinosaur Police web page here.)



On Saturday, 6 June, my publisher Scholastic UK and I will be taking part in not one, but TWO Dinosaur Police events! One in the morning at Dulwich Books and one in the afternoon at Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill. The one at Dulwich Books is free (but you'll need to book) and will be a smaller session but lots of drawing fun, and the one at Tales on Moon Lane will involve drawing, singing, snacks and a bit of bubbly for the grownups. You need to book for that one, with a £2.50 ticket that can come off the price of the book if you buy one.



So see which one suits your family's schedule, and hope to see you there! :) Dressing up VERY welcome (but not obligatory). Thanks so much for hosting, lovely indie bookshops!

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6. dartmoor pegasus: #maysketchaday

I haven't been doing enough of my own non-work drawing lately, and when I don't, I find I feel rather low, and my work slows down. So last night I got out my pens and did another Dartmoor Pegasus drawing.



It's part of a story that my Cakes in Space co-author Philip Reeve and I made up as we went along, based on a little painting he once made on a piece of wood. (You can see earlier Dartmoor Pegasus drawings here.



The thing that got me going was when concept artist Ian McQue tweeted a picture with the #maysketchaday hash tag. People are trying to post one sketch every day, but a lot of these people are concept artists and a lot of what they call 'sketches' look like big, epic finished pieces to me. If I ever start thinking I've figured out this illustration thing, I just need to look over at concept artists' work and realise I still have a long way to go in upping my game. I love line, but I'm not so good at lighting effects and more subtle colours, and some of these guys are masters.

Ian McQue consistently posts amazing work; he's one of the best things happening on Twitter. Here's one, created in Photoshop, with a Blade Runner feel to it:




And another based on his 'Mechadoodles', this one titled 'Flea':



My other favourite person experimenting on Twitter is Jonathan Edwards (@jontofski). Here's a watercolour painting of a street corner in Toronto that most people would probably pass without noticing. He's turned it into total magic:



This #maysketchaday meme has instroduced me to some more concept artists. Check out work by Thomas Scholes:







Here's one by Paul Scott Canavan (@abigbat):



And another by Lennart Verhoeff (@Pixeltuner):



I'm going to try to post some more drawings for #maysketchaday. I'm not sure they'll be every day because I have a lot of events, but I'll do my best. Thanks for sharing your work, lovely concept artists. You're very inspiring!

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7. pictures mean business: bookseller, scwbi rally for illustration

Hurrah for The Bookseller magazine, for not getting sore when a bunch of us criticised it for not properly listing illustrators in articles and sales charts. Instead, they've listened, made changes, and this week opened up wider debate on the #PicturesMeanBusiness issue. Journalist Charlotte Eyre asked me to write this piece for today's issue (which you can also read online here).


Portrait photo in The Bookseller by Dave Warren

Charlotte has written a longer piece, and created a 'Top 10 Picture Book Illustrators' sales chart, which is something very new. Helen Oxenbury has gone from being unmentioned for her role in creating We're Going on a Bear Hunt with Michael Rosen to being listed in her own right as illustrator. You can read Charlotte's article here, Nielsen calls for debate over crediting illustrators.



But the issue's not as clear as we illustrators would like to think, and Charlotte flags some of the complex areas which need addressing:




Last Wednesday, a group of us from the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators met in the Savoy Tup pub in London to discuss #PicturesMeanBusiness, organised by active SCBWI members Candy Gourlay and Mo O'Hara. Carnegie head Joy Court, Charlotte Eyre and I talked with the group about the campaign and we pooled what knowledge people in the room had on the issue so far.

Joy was the first person who made me aware that the data was such a big issue in the Carnegie award listings. One thing I've been learning, and which was strengthened by the discussion was that Nielsen isn't entirely to blame for the problem. When I first came to the issue, it seemed like the main problem was that Nielsen had outdated software and needed to update it; then all the listings would fall into place. But that's only partly true. The other problem is that publishers all have different ways of organising the data they submit to Nielsen (many of their own systems desperately outdate), and Nielsen has to work with what it's given.

Some publishers realise that their illustrators may not get credit if they list them as illustrators, so they list them as authors. (And, in a sense, illustrators are authors in telling the story.) But if they leave the illustrator field blank, then it's tricky to discover who illustrated the book. Other publishers are giving incomplete data, possibly only listing the writer. What's submitted to Nielsen is a big, irregular mish-mash. Since the publishers are paying Nielsen for the data collection service, it's more likely that they can demand things of Nielsen, rather than Nielsen demanding software upgrades from the publishers. Charlotte has been liasing with a contact at Nielsen and said he's been very open and helpful about it.

So we need to look to the publishers to provide more regular data. Digital data may be a boring topic, but it is a BIG DEAL. As more and more processes are computerised, our livelihoods become very dependent on the accuracy and searchability of this data. Amazon are leading the way in organising their data, and because it's so easy to find things on their websites, it's beating out sellers who don't have access to such good data. UK publishers need to up their games so Amazon doesn't take all the sales. (And politicians need to sort out better tax laws so sellers are taxed fairly and equally, but that's another subject, even if it's related.)

At the SCBWI discussion, we asked, how can we encourage publishers provide better data? One suggestion by Charlotte was to try to get publishers to sign up to a charter, agreeing on a standard way of submitting book data. By signing, they would be stating that they submitted a complete set of data to the charter's specified standards (including illustrators and translators). Charlotte said The Bookseller might be able to spearhead this action.

But as Charlotte has pointed out in her article today, crediting is not always clear. We're going to talk more about this in a follow-up discussion on Twitter at 4pm (British time) on the hash tag #FutureChat. Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson will be hosting the discussion, manning @TheFutureBook account. Please do take part if you can!



And I've realised that my #PicturesMeanBusiness updates sprawl over many blog posts, so I've tightened them up on to one page here: www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-business



On that page I talk about:
1. The problem of uncredited illustrators
2. Why it matter and whom it affects (beyond illustrators)
2. How you can help with the campaign
4. Campaign progress so far


And I just spotted that Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson has blogged about WRITERS going uncredited! I can see what he means: there is a lot of 'The Times says...' or 'The Bookseller claims that...' without mentioning the journalist.

Big thanks to writers Candy and Mo for hosting this weeks' SCBWI event!



One wonderful thing from that night was meeting Yat-Hong Chow, who created this book, Yellow as a real family effort. His seven-year-old son, Yü Chow, wrote the text, 'a fictional diary of a seven year old boy', with his dad's help. Yat designed the book, and his wife, Yü's mother, Hannah Kops, created the illustrations. Not every family can do this so expertly, but it's a wonderful example of a family coming together and recognising every aspect of creating a book. What a sense of achievement, to work as a team and create something like that together! (Here's their Kickstarter page.) It felt very much in the spirit of what we'd been discussing that evening.

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8. pictures mean business: #futurechat

Hey guys, journalist Charlotte Eyre and I have both written pieces on the ‪#‎PicturesMeanBusiness‬ topic for a spread in Friday's magazine, and Associate Editor Porter Anderson is going to be hosting a discussion at 4pm on the ‪#‎FutureChat‬ hash tag. If you're interested in this and are on Twitter, it would be great if you could take part!

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9. princess ain't kick-ass today

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10. #thewritebook toolkit: a whole comics lesson in videos!

Guys, this is exciting! Booktrust have worked with me to come up with a whole online class on how to make comics! I'm always wishing I could get around to more schools, so this is a huge help. There are four videos: how to make a character, tips on making comics, a walk-through where kids can make a comic along with the video, then a fun song at the end, inspired by the comic character.



The video editor has expertly paced the tutorial so teachers can use it in the classroom. But I think people at home can get a lot out of it, too: kids or grownups! You can watch the videos on the website here.



Here's the second video, so you can get a taster. Kids find making comics fun, but it also focuses them on learning how to make a story very clear to a reader. When I lead kids in Comics Jams, I often see them coming to grips with the idea that it's not enough to have a story in their heads, but that they have to give enough clues on the paper for someone else to understand the story without them hovering nearby, explaining it. They partly learn that by drawing the comics, but also by being given someone else's comic, and seeing why it might be difficult to work out what's happening. Learning how to express a series of thoughts clearly is a great concept lesson that applies to any form of communication.



You can find some more tips on leading Comics Jams over on my Jampires website with David O'Connell (who does great workshops). The Write Book site went live yesterday and a few people have already spotted it and seen its potential. Yay!




And you know how I'm always banging on about us needing an online comics database? Well, it looks like something's starting to happen! Check out this Booktrust Bookfinder on the website. For people who have no idea what kind of comics to give kids of various ages, this could be super-helpful. It's by no means a comprehensive list, and people can question the age ranging but it's a great start, and user-friendly. I'm always meeting teachers who want to do more with comics but they don't know much about them and need help.



On the Bookfinder, you can find out about my Vern and Lettuce comic book:



You can even download some pages, so you can get a feel for what kind of comic it is!



I'm really excited about this Write Book teacher toolkit; I think it could become a sort of TED Talks about children's books, with good resources just clicks away from the videos. I know kids get a HUGE amount out of it when I lead them in Comics Jam sessions, and I really hope people will use and share these videos.



And explore the other resources on the site! You can watch videos by Tony Bradman on rewriting fairy tales and Laura Dockrill's tips on writing and keeping a notebook. If you use our videos to come up with something creative, we'd love it if you'd share them with us! You can tweet them (or get someone to help you tweet them) to @Booktrust, using the hash tag #thewritebook. (And include me - @jabberworks - I'd love to see your comics!)



Big thanks to Anna McKerrow and the Booktrust team for making this happen!

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11. pugs of the frozen north: knit your own pug!

Now who wouldn't love to have a little knitted pug for a friend? Can you knit, or do you know anyone who does?



My latest book with Philip Reeve, Pugs of the Frozen North, doesn't come out with Oxford University Press until September...



...but people have been asking to get a head start on making their own pugs in preparation for the book's arrival. After the success of the knitted Sea Monkey for Oliver and the Seawigs, the fabulous Lauren O'Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade) came up with a new Pug pattern, and she assures us that this one's even easier to make!
**You can download it free, here on my website.**



This pug's named Tuggle and we love him. But there are 66 pugs in the book, so there will be lots of names to choose from (and you can come up with your own, of course). Lauren's a champion knitter and worked in the same studio room as me until she outgrew the space, about the time that she was knitting the world's largest solar system for the Science Museum. She knows all about exploring the outer reaches of knitting, but this pattern is actually very simple.



So Tuggle and I are pals - I've never had a dog before! - but Philip's poodle on Dartmoor, Frodo, can't quite decide what he thinks about this pug invasion. SIXTY-SIX there will be, Frodo... all the companions you could ever want!



If you knit a pug, please do share a photo! We'd love to see yours, and let us know its name. (Philip and I are on Twitter as @philipreeve1 and @jabberworks and Lauren is @deadlyknitshade. And we have a Reeve & McIntyre Facebook page here.



You can also explore the activities we have online for Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space. And you can find out what else Lauren's made over on her website.

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12. the alligator's mouth: richmond's indie children's bookshop

This Saturday was ALLIGATOR themed in southwest London...



...for the grand launch of Richmond's new independent children's bookshop, The Alligator's Mouth!



There was much cake and Gruffalo:



And here's the team who run it! With all these indie bookshops shutting down, it's extremely brave to be opening one, but wonderful, too. Children's book sales are still on the rise, and we need our indies to look out for new talent and highlight the books picked by specialists, which might not necessarily be taken up by big chains. The three who run the shop are, from the right, artist and designer Mark Pembrey, Margaret Wallace-Jones and Tony West. Margaret and Tony used to run the Lion & Unicorn Bookshop, but the sky-high Richmond rent forced them to close. But they didn't let that beat them!




The Alligator's Mouth can count on strong support from British writers and illustrators. Even superstar writer Jacqueline Wilson turned out for a signing!



I was so pleased to meet lovely writer Smriti Prasadam-Halls and writer-illustrator Sophy Henn. I'd seen Sophy's bold covers pop out at me before, and it was fun talking about her technique, using pencil and Adobe Illustrator (not Photoshop, as I would have expected). Sophy has a real screen-printer's aesthetic, which gives her books that lovely retro, limited palette simplicity.



Here's Tony with pooch and writer-illustrator Chris Riddell, who arrived to cut the ribbon and officially open the shop.



I know it looks like he's actually taking a snip out of Margaret here, but I promise there was a green ribbon.



And here's the lineup of authors who stopped by, posted by Chris on his Instagram.



Stuart and I popped out to get some lunch and do some shopping and managed to catch writer-illustrator Ian Beck at the end of his signing session.



And here's writer Natasha Farrant! I read her book After Iris when I was judging the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, and while I didn't find it screamingly funny, it was wonderful and warm, with a gentle humour that I loved. I wasn't quite sure why it had been submitted for the prize, but it was one of my favourite reads in the stack, and it was great to meet its author at last.



The shop was absolutely heaving all morning - such a turnout!



Sadly I missed seeing Barry Loser writer-illustrator Jim Smith, but I grabbed this bookshop tweet. (Do follow them at @alligatorsmouth!) I've read Barry Loser: I am Still Not a Loser and it really IS screamingly funny. The drawings are kind of awful, but in the most wonderful way, that makes turns a funny book into one that actually made me laugh out loud. Drawings of hoverpoos and two old people kissing are forever burned on my memory.



I wasn't actually able to tell Tony that I would be coming to the launch; I'd spent so much time doing book promotional activities and travelling that I thought I'd better save the day to spend with Stuart. But when Stuart found out about what the indie bookshop was doing, he said, 'No, this is something we really should do', and we were able to make of it a lovely day together. Richmond's lovely, and we had a great lunch at the Tide Tables vegetarian cafe under the bridge, and Stuart bought a jacket on the high street.



It's definitely a destination; not only do you get a children's bookshop, but a couple streets away, you'll find an indie comics shop! We ran into Sam, who works there, and whom we met at my Jampires co-author David O'Connell's wedding, and he took us back there for a visit Raygun comics.



Behind the desk, here's Chris and Sam, and Sam's very interested in stocking more self-published comics, so if you make your own, think about getting in touch with the shop at @Raygun_comics.



So, hurrah for indies! If you can support The Alligator's Mouth (and Raygun), that would be fabulous!

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13. dinosaur police launch party + fun activities!

RAWR!!! Join me and Scholastic UK for the launch of my new picture book, Dinosaur Police!



Tales on Moon Lane, a lovely indie bookshop in Herne Hill, south London, is hosting the big party in the afternoon (2-3pm, with a signing after), and if you can't come to that (or it's more convenient), pop over to Dulwich Books at 11am for a smaller storytelling, drawing and signing session. A full day of dinosaurs! And it's optional, but if you want to dress up dinosaur or police themed or both, that would be FABULOUS. There is a small booking fee for the big party (£2.50), but if you buy a book, they'll deduct if from the cost of your book. I hope you can come, and if you have any friends that might enjoy it, please let them know! Here's the Facebook Event Page, if you want to let me know you're coming.


Photo by Elissa Elwick

My web designer Dan Fone has just posted the free activity sheets on my website, so now there are fun things built in that librarians, teachers, parents, adults who like to colour, can print out. (You could even use the colouring sheet and drawing tutorial to make a Pin-the-Pizza-on-the-T-Rex for a Dinosaur Police themed birthday pizza party!)



Here's a close-up of How to Draw Inspector Sarah Tops:



I tested this out on Twitter, to see if the steps were too complicated. So big thanks to these people for helping: @sillyweeowl, @alexthepink, @froyoho:



@helenclarkjones, @nelliejean, @crgn:


@paper_teacher took it to school and got her class to try!


And @MehsiLovesBooks went the whole way to lovely colour:


Please to check out the new Dinosaur Police web page, and if you have any friends who love dinosaurs or police stories, point them in this direction! If you want to tweet or Instagram your drawings, I'd love to see them, and use the hash tag #DinosaurPolice!

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14. uk election night







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15. dinosaur police: time to draw and colour!

My brand-new picture book with Scholastic UK, Dinosaur Police, isn't scheduled to come out until the beginning of June, but it's already starting to pop up in the shops! Here's a sighting by writer
Jeff Norton:



And the dinosaurs are EXCITED! If the books aren't in the shops yet, that's okay; they will hover by the doors and make nuisances of themselves and terrify the more faint-hearted customers until the boxes arrive.



My web designer Dan Fone has just posted the free activity sheets on my website, so now there are fun things built in that librarians, teachers, parents, adults who like to colour, can print out. (You could even use the colouring sheet and drawing tutorial to make a Pin-the-Pizza-on-the-T-Rex for a Dinosaur Police themed birthday pizza party!)




Here's a close-up of How to Draw Inspector Sarah Tops:



I tested this out on Twitter, to see if the steps were too complicated. So big thanks to these people for helping: @sillyweeowl, @alexthepink, @froyoho:



@helenclarkjones, @nelliejean, @crgn:


@paper_teacher took it to school and got her class to try!


And @MehsiLovesBooks went the whole way to lovely colour:


Please to check out the new Dinosaur Police web page, and if you have any friends who love dinosaurs or police stories, point them in this direction! If you want to tweet or Instagram your drawings, I'd love to see them, and use the hash tag #DinosaurPolice!

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16. stratford-upon-avon and space suits

This weekend, the Reeve & McIntyre Roadshow hit the home of England's greatest playwright at Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival! (It's also where Shakespeare lived...)



Here I am, back in the blue wig and flight cap for Cakes in Space shenanigans with the festival's director Annie Ashworth and one of our top-level space cadets from Oxford University Press, Elaine McQuade.



These kinds of events are usually pleasant, but working together as a team on books with Reeve makes them loads of fun. We were pleased to see that while we were busy at the festival, The Guardian ran an article on co-author teams, with a good emphasis on illustration and comics:




And Reeve and I got a mention, hurrah! Thanks, Imogen Russell Williams!



Speaking of all things space-themed on May the Fourth (be with you), Philip's just written a blog on Star Wars and why it's been such a big influence on his work:



(And if you're looking for more good Star Wars reading material, check out these models cut from single sheets of paper.)

But back to Stratford Lit Fest! One of the best things about a festival is when we hear afterward how people in the audience have been inspired to go away and make their own drawings and stories. Philip and I led them in drawing Pilbeam the robot and a killer cake, and a girl named Erin went away and started her own Pilbeam-inspired comic! Yay! I hope she keeps going with it. (Thanks to @KathrynEMarsh for tweeting it.)



While we were in town, Philip could feel the bard looking down over not one, but both of his shoulders:



And he signed copies of the Uncorrected Proof edition of his new book, RAILHEAD, which is coming out about the same time this September as our Pugs of the Frozen North book.



One of the fun things about a festival is getting to meet other authors. (In fact, it's how I met Philip, at the Edinburgh book fest.) Here's Philip getting served his asparagus starter on a plank, with a bit of fake grass, next to Elaine and Professor David Crystal.



We got to meet David, his wife/manager Hilary and their actor/writer son Ben Crystal, who worked with his dad to create an Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary for young teenagers.



Other fab people we saw at the festival: Nick Butterworth! I love Nick's work and studied it quite a lot when I first started out. And funnily enough, he looks so much like his characters, including Percy the Park Keeper:



Here are Ashley Harrold and Philip swapping books in the Green Room:



Ashley, Steven Lenton and Tracey Corderoy all came to our Cakes in Space event (thanks so much!) but I didn't manage to snap a picture of Steve before he had to run and catch his train. But here's his fab co-author Tracey, with some of their charaters:



A quick hello with Chris Riddell:



And somehow I entirely missed seeing the marvelous Neill Cameron, but here's a photo tweeted by the festival. (Hope to catch you next time, Neill!!) He's come straight from taking part in the Phoenix Fest in Oxford, which sounded amazing. (Check out some of the tweets from that festival here!)



Big thanks to Annie and her team which made the festival run so smoothly! I hope lots of people went away inspired.

And I went back home to Stuart, and we spent a day in Kent visiting the bluebells and eating wild garlic. (Whiffy!)



I promise no bluebells were harmed in the making of this photo.

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17. oliver et les îles vagabondes: prix enfantaisie!

My co-author Philip Reeve and I were so excited to get a message from our International Rights Manager Stella Giatrakou, saying she'd heard from French publisher Seuil that Oliver and the Seawigs had won an award in Switzerland! It's the Prix Enfantaisie, organised by Payot bookshops and the Swiss Institute for Youth, and they've been doing it for 20 years; 3,000 children voted for Oliver et les îles vagabondes from a selection of five books.



We weren't able to go to the Geneva International Bookfair to accept the award because we had already agreed to go to the Stratford-upon-Avon lit fest. But I knew the perfect person in Geneva to collect the award! She's Marie-Pierre Preece, the amazing librarian at the International School of Geneva, that I visited in 2012. (All the kids call her 'MP'.) Here she is on the left, with the picture I drew for her library during my visit:



And MP asked Philip and me if we could make a video for the ceremony, which we did. (Note the excellent sound effect halfway through, that was Philip's doing.)




Yes, thank you, Payot, Seuil, our excellent French translator Raphaële Eschenbrenner, Stella at Oxford University Press, and MP! Here's MP collecting the award at the book fair, next to the winner in the other category, Max Ducos, for Le Mystère de la grande dune.



And MP signing our books! She wrote in an e-mail:

The second picture is me signing your book. The kids asked for a signature and I said, 'Well how, if the illustrator is not here?' and then one of them said, 'But you, Miss, can't you sign our books?' and I couldn't resist! But I signed 'de la part de', so all is honest and good.



Some of the kids spoke English and were able to understand the video, and MP translated for the rest. They also had some questions. So I rang up Philip on Skype this morning and we've answered them together. A big thanks to everyone who voted for our book!



Questions from Swiss readers:

* Did you use a computer to create the illustrations?

Partly, yes! I started out by using old-fashioned dip pen and ink, and scanned those black-and-white drawings into the computer. In Adobe Photoshop, I added the blue colour (which is gray in some of the paperback versions).



* Where did the idea of vagabond islands come from?

Sarah: Philip had the idea to write a sea story, and we originally thought it might be about a dog that washed up on a beach. But I was telling Philip about how I'd been to a meeting of the Children's Writers & Illustrators Group (part of the Society of Authors), and the acronym for that is 'CWIG'. I pronounced it 'Seawig', and joked that I'd love to draw a picture of islands with stuff piled up on their heads. (I'd just been drawing a lot of monster wigs for an exhibition.) Philip said, 'AHA! That's just what we need for this story!' and it all started from there.

* Why did you choose the sea and not another type of environment?

Sarah: Philip and I both grew up near the sea and love it. The sea is also the closest thing on earth that we have to an alien planet; scientists are still discovering strange alien creatures in its depths. So it's natural to think that any kind of creature could come out of it.


Little Sarah with her sister, Mary


* Where did you get the idea of the characters in the book?

Philip: We wanted a character who could go off and have adventures so we made his family explorers. Sarah really likes mermaids, so we decided we'd have him meet a mermaid. And the other characters just popped in when they felt like it.

* Why is the boy called Oliver? is there a link with somebody you know?

Philip: We were walking along the banks of the Thames while we talked about this story and we came to a place called Oliver's Wharf...

* Where did the idea of Sea Monkeys come from?

Sarah: From comics! In the American Archie comics I read growing up, there was always an advert for Sea Monkeys, and I never believed that, for only a dollar, they would look like the ones in the picture. But I did wonder about them.



* Did you go around the world like Oliver's parents?

Philip: When I was little, my parents took me around England, Scotland and Wales in a campervan, a bit like Oliver's Explorermobile.



Sarah: I grew up in Seattle and did travel quite a bit with my parents, to places in the USA and to Scotland, England and France. Recently we all went to China together, and I made a travel comic about it that you can read here.



* Did other books inspire you?

Philip: Yes, but too many to name.

Sarah: In the beginning of creating our story, I thought a little bit about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Narnia books, and the seagull in Watership Down, but by the time we'd finished creating our story, it was something completely different.

* How long did it take to write the book?

Philip: Including all the illustrations, about a year? We came up with the ideas together and I went away and wrote it, which took about a month.

* What books did you like as a kid?

Philip: Tolkien, Asterix, Tintin, Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Sarah: The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pené du Bois, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, collections of Calvin & Hobbes comics.

* What are your favourite books?

Philip & Sarah: We both love Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness.

* Why did you become writers and illustrators?

Philip: Because there's nothing else I can do!

Sarah: I've always loved drawing and writing gives me the chance to decide what I'm going to draw.

* Since when have you been a writer?

Philip: Since I was five. But my first published book was in 2001, Mortal Engines.

Sarah: Me, too, since about five. I made a book called My Fish. (You can read it all here.)



* Did you go to a special school to become writers and illustrators?

Philip: I went to art college but mostly I learned to write by just writing.

Sarah: I studied Russian at university, with a focus on Russian language and literature. But then I lived in Moscow for two years and discovered amazing Russian art and got very inspired. Over the next six years, I illustrated quite a few books and then went to art college for two years to study illustration.



* How is it to live an author's life, how do you organise your days?

Philip: I don't organise my days, they just happen.

Sarah: Days can be so different! One day I might be working at my desk, then the next day I might be traveling to talk about my books in front of hundreds of people on stage.



* Do you have another job?

Philip: I do illustrate sometimes for other writers.

Sarah: Sometime publicising the books feels like a whole second job! I once wrote an article about how I have a fleet of clones helping me with all the work involved in being an illustrator.



* Will there be a follow up?

Sarah: Yes! The characters won't be the same - Philip and I wanted to come up with whole new worlds for each book - but they'll all be adventure stories. We've published one called Cakes in Space (or Astra et les gâteaux de l'espace in French, published by Seuil). You can learn how to draw some of the characters here on my website. And our next book is coming out in English, Pugs of the Frozen North, and hopefully in French, too!


Photo by Sarah Reeve

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18. happy birthday, little sister!



This year's been a big one for my sister! She and her partner, Mike, have moved their whole bar, the Streamline Tavern a few streets away, and they've done a great job of it, but it's been LOADS of work.



Here's my dad helping out, making a new sign in a size that suits the new building.

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19. people making fab stuff

My friend Laurence wanted some company doing his homework today and I amused myself having a little chat with him about copyright. ...Actually, his © is completely valid! He doesn't have to register copyright anywhere to make the picture completely his. When he draws a picture, he immediately has the copyright. (Whether he can defend it, is another thing.) We got the leafy layout idea and adapted his poster from the cover of Gary Northfield's comic book, Gary's Garden.



One of the most exciting things about my job is seeing people who've been inspired by my books, using them as a jumping-off point to creating their own pieces of artwork, costumes and stories. Look, it's a Sea Monkey jumper! And the chap who's wearing it also named Oliver! Big thanks to his aunt, who designed and knitted it and sent the photo to my co-author Philip Reeve and me!



Check out this Oliver and the Seawigs bedroom wall mural, tweeted by @Brazgosuperstar. Pretty amazing!



Hurrah! A Lego Rambling Isle, wearing a Seawig, tweeted by Andy Lacey.



When the Children's Book Club met up at Booka Bookshop in Shropshire, they made their own Seawigs! (If you'd like a Seawig template, you can download one here off my website.)




And one more, a photo of a very realistic-looking Seawig, tweeted by Gareth P Jones.

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20. dr pepper



Today I went to the art supply shop (Atlantis, off Brick Lane) and bought some new pencils.

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21. nap time

Another drawing with my new pencils:

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22. in defense of copyright

There's been a lot of talk in Britain about copyright during the past few days. What is it? Do we need it? Some people argue that it's not an important issue in the context of the overall election, but I disagree; I think people's attitude toward copyright tells us a lot about how they want society to work and how willing they are to take away protective rights before they even know much about them.



I got very weary of trying to explain the same points about copyright over and over to people on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to follow the debate, I've posted updates on my previous blog post here. If you want to know more from me, go there and leave a comment (or here); I'm not going to tweet endlessly about it.



Here are five reasons why I'm glad we're having this discussion about copyright:

1. Copyright is IMPORTANT. It's been a reminder to all parties not to mess with copyright unless thinking VERY hard about it and consulting freelance creative people whom the policy change would deeply affect.

2. Many people are clueless about copyright. It's shown that there are a lot of people out there who have no idea what copyright really means, but still want to see it severely curtailed.

3. Copyright is a subject worth investigating. It's made us see that we can't take copyright for granted, and we need to educate people about how it protects individual artists. (It's not just a truncheon for big corporations, as some assume.) It's made us think about the current state of copyright (Lifetime + 70 years) and wonder if it needs review or is right for now, taking into consideration existing EU policy.

4. We have to go by what's written. Intention doesn't mean much unless written words back it up. It's not just the Green Party policy website, the same goes for business conducted by creative people. If terms aren't correctly written into our contract and we have no copyright to protect us as creatives, the stronger and richer party gets to decide who's right.

5. We have help. It's highlighted the importance of the Society of Authors, an affordable source of help with legal explanations. The SoA is the closest thing writers, illustrators and translators have to a union for defending our rights and pointing us in the right directions so we can educate ourselves.



Here's the Society of Author's recent statement on copyright:



The discussion has thrown up two good pieces of online writing about the subject, including these two articles. Read five myths about copyright by writer John Degen:



And check out this defense of copyright by writer Joanne Harris:



What the copyright discussion taught us about the politics and the Green Party:

The Green Party handled this quite clumsily at first. Some representatives were pretending the policy website didn't say what it said about their stance toward an intended duration copyright 'with a usual maximum of 14 years'. Some said that it meant '14 years after death', and some insisted that it DID mean 14 years in total, as written. There was confusion. What we've learned from this:

1. Writing matters. If you write something on your policy website, that's what people are going to read and they will think that is what you mean. Your intention means nothing if you can't write clearly.

2. Learn how to write if you want to make big changes to society. People who deal in policy creation need to have good writing skills, and people to copy-edit what they've written before it goes public (particularly just before an election). Being 'grass roots' is no excuse for sloppiness in thinking or in writing.

3. Twitter is a powerful way to bring up an issue very quickly. All I did was highlight an existing piece of public policy and because the policy itself was so shocking to people in creative professions, the word spread like fire. (A lot of creative people spend a lot of time on Twitter.)

4. The Green Party lets all its members vote to decide policy. The Green Party can't make quick decisions or fix wording on its website without members voting to change it.

I think the Green Party should have highlighted this fourth fact right away, to show off its democratic decision-making process. Pretending the website wording didn't mean what it said was off-putting to people trying to understand the party's stance. Party Leader Natalie Bennett kept trying to smooth over this by retweeting an article that said the website didn't mean what it said. But Brighton MP Caroline Lucas realised within a few days that this wasn't enough, admitted the party got it wrong, and highlighted the need for consultation with creatives about copyright. I still think she shouldn't pretend the party meant '14 years after death', because that's not what the policy said, but if she wants to state this as a face-saving measure, I suppose that's politics, and people who want to vote Green can show up to discuss the subject with her. Read more on the Green Party website here.



And finally, how do we vote? ...I still have NO IDEA. Argh. But I will vote. Personally, I'm not convinced about protest votes. I don't want to see UKIP get power and I believe in voting for the party I think will do the best job. (Saying 'don't worry about Green policy and vote for them because they won't get in anyway' sounds lame. It's like I handed you my book and said 'don't bother reading it, it's rubbish'.)

But some creatives who were worried about copyright policy are reassured and deciding to go ahead and vote Green, to give a stronger voice to environmental concerns. You can read writer Jonathan Emmett's argument for voting Green:



And now I need to get back to work.

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23. dinosaur police: why a police story?

I'm excited to say that I have a new picture book coming out with Scholastic UK very soon! In fact, it might even start hitting shops in the next week or two!



When I first met up with my editor, Pauliina Malinen, I'd been wanting to write and draw a book about dinosaurs, and she had the idea of adding the 'police' element to it; her son loves cops-and-robbers stories, and she could think of hardly any recent books on the theme. Part of me thought, Yay! Fun action adventure! And part of me felt nervous. There have been a lot of horrifying police stories in the news lately (such as this one), about police taking advantage of their power and abusing or killing people. I wondered, are nice grandmas really going to want to buy a police story as a gift for their grandkid, or are people going to shy away from the theme? I thought, well, I can just focus on the dinosaur side of thing and brush the police element under the carpet when I try to promote the book. Hmm...



But then I had second thoughts. Actually, we NEED stories about police who are better than the ones in the news stories. Kids need to realise that police brutality isn't the norm, and if they want to be a police officer, they don't go into it to beat up people but to look after the community. If kids only hear stories of police shooting tasers at people, it won't draw the kind, caring ones into the profession when they grow up, just the bullies. Bad police officers need brought to justice, but good stories about good, professional police offers are important, too.



Dinosaur Police isn't an 'issue book'. It's a fun romp, with chases, and construction equipment and a Pterodactyl air squad. It's something I hope will get kids excited so they can go play Cops & Robbers inspired by this kind of story. The baddie T-Rex isn't an evil mastermind, he's silly, and very naughty when he gets over-excited and hungry. But his actions cause a lot of damage and problems for the community and he needs to be stopped.



The Dinosaur Police have a history with Trevor the T-Rex: he's been naughty before, and so they know what works with him, even though they still make mistakes. When they catch him, they don't send him to jail, he ends up doing community service to make amends for his crimes. But this is a lively picture book, and I hope kids will like to see the creative way the mayor comes up with a work plan for him!



My studio mates and I actually work right next to a police station - close enough to holler out the window if we need them - and we've often heard their sirens and seen them in the station eating their little pots of yoghurt. Our building is the former police station, but it wasn't equipped for modern policing, so it's full of artist studios now. In fact, the building itself doesn't have a very nice history - bad things happened in decades past, particularly to black people - and I'm glad it's not used for that any more.



The building even still has the old jail cells. Here's Gary Northfield and Viviane Schwarz in one of them. They often get used now for art installations and one's rumoured to be haunted.



When the three of us first moved into the studio, we called our studio the Fleece Station, because it was in a police station and we were all making comics about sheep at the time (Vern and Lettuce, Derek the Sheep and The Sleepwalkers).



And animal police pop up at the end of Vern and Lettuce. So it wasn't all that surprising I came out with a book about animal police. (And dinosaurs are very cool animals.)



Here's a new banner for my public Facebook page, if you'd like to add me there and get updates. And I hope you like the story!

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24. writers and illustrators: what we REALLY do all day

In discussions about illustrator earnings, I've realised a lot of people have no idea what we actually do for a living. They think we create a book, then have a rest while we earn lots of money from the book.


From Twitter

From my blog

To be fair, I had no idea about what I'd be doing when I went into this job, either! So I thought I'd make a list of some of the things I do that aren't actually sitting at my desk, drawing a book. I wish I'd known some of these things earlier, I might have prepared better!

I have between two and three books published each year. But making a book isn't enough to make a living at it. If no one knows about my books, they won't sell and my publishers won't want any more books. I have to make my books stand out from all the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of books being published. This kind of work and admin probably takes at least 70% of my time. So what REALLY goes into this writing-illustrating job?



* Public speaking: Wow. I had NO IDEA how much time I'd be standing on stages, putting on actual shows to the public. I had a vague idea I might be doing the occasional story time reading, and maybe a couple times a year, talking to a group of illustrators about materials and drawing techniques. But it's been a lot more than that. When you're asked to go on stage and 'talk about your book' for an hour to a bunch of five-year-olds, they don't really mean just talk about your book. 200 fidgety kids won't happily sit for an hour in a room listening to an adult lecture them; I had to learn to make it interactive and put a lot of variety into it. My events occur in fits and starts (I might do three days of events and none the next week), but if you evened them out over a year, I probably do two hour-long events a week. I love doing events and meeting people, but I find the whole next day I'm often exhausted; I'm not a natural extrovert but I've learned how to adapt.




The tricky thing about events is that you don't get to line them all up at once and choose which ones you want to do. They come to you in dribs and drabs, and you don't know if you should accept one or wait for a better one to come along, if it does. And if you do commit, and an even better one comes along that you can't say no to, you can't pull out of the one you agreed to do first, so you find yourself being overbooked and struggling to meet book deadlines. But if you say no to everything, you might not earn enough money that year to pay the bills. A lot of authors make more money charging for events than they do making books, and events are the way they survive. And a one-hour event in, say, Leicester, doesn't mean one hour spent on that event. (See the next point.)



* E-mailing about events: I didn't realise how long this was going to take! Usually someone will start by sending me an e-mail, to ask if I can come to their school, festival, library, headquarters to judge a competition, etc. I write back, asking about dates and fees, they write back saying they didn't want to pay a fee, would I do it for free; I write back saying sorry, can't do it; they write back saying oh, okay, how about a fee, we could do that; I say, what would you like me to do; we negotiate what kind of programme I might provide; we e-mail back and forth about tech equipment and art supplies; we e-mail again about travel details and accommodation; we e-mail about the Powerpoint slideshow; they e-mail back saying they lost it; I e-mail it again; they e-mail back to say they can't get it to work on their school computer; we find another way to access the slideshow; they e-mail saying someone else is going to collect me at the station; we e-mail back and forth with mobile numbers. Afterward, we e-mail about how it went; I e-mail the invoice; sometimes I e-mail again when the relevant council forgets to pay, etc. That can easily be 20 e-mails. (Here's a guide for event hosts, to help simplify things.)


Schoolchildren's variations on one of my book characters

NOW... I know I could cut this way back if I join an event service such as Authors Aloud or Speaking of Books. I'm seriously thinking of doing this at some point, even though it means they charge the school a bit more to pay for their services. In the meantime, I'm trying to pin down event hosts to filling out my itinerary sheet with all the relevant details, all at once. But each festival has its own little quirks and ways of working. My publicists have been organising more events for me recently, but publicists have less incentive to get a good fee for me, since they're more interested in selling books. If I book my own events, I can usually earn a lot more up-front money. It takes more time but I earn more money, so it's a trade-off. Everything's about time and there's not enough of it.



*Preparing for events: Putting together Power Point slideshows can take awhile, particularly if the hosts want an event that's tailor-made to a certain topic. I also organise costumes for my events, because it makes kids pay WAY more attention when I dress up and then they get a lot more out of the experience. Putting together costumes takes awhile. And most of the stuff needs hand-washed after events. (I haven't done this for a couple weeks and our guest room is strewn with frocks that need washing and hats that need put away.) Sometimes Philip and I build props for our event. We've recently been writing a song to go with each book, and learning to play them. (No mean feat, since we didn't sing OR play instruments before we started working together!) You can see an archive here of a lot of the events I've done over the past few years.



*Creating promotional/educational material: I try to make a set of activity sheets to go on my website with each book, so teachers, librarians and parents can go beyond the story, having kids (or adults) make something of their own. (It might be drawing a Jampire, learning how to fold a mini book, running a Comics Jam, designing a Seawig, etc.) I don't usually get paid for these specifically, but I often it as part of my book-making package. There's also publisher catalogues that need artwork, or artwork approving. Sometimes it's really random stuff, like I hand-lettered some of the activity sheets in Dutch for our Dutch publisher. (It took so long that realised I couldn't do that for every publisher.)



*Little side illustration jobs that aren't actually the books: I write and draw the Shark & Unicorn comic strip for The Funday Times, do artwork for the London theatre Kids Week programme, various bits and jobs, usually for my friend Damian, who's kind of become my non-book agent by default. The Summer Reading Challenge turned out to be quite a big thing (involving nearly a million children!). Sometimes these projects help promote my books and sometimes I never hear that anyone's ever seen them.



*Promoting on social media: There's a fine line here, what's promotion and what's standing around the water cooler having a chat. The thing is, no one on social media wants a hard sell. And it really helps me to see what else is happening out there among my creative friends, who inspire me a lot. So I never know what's 'promo' and what's just hanging out on social media, there's no real distinction. I have to be careful I don't spend too much time doing this. Even when I'm not doing it, when I get involved in a work-focused debate or something, it can really rip my attention away from my work. But it helps me know what's going on, too. SUCH a fine line.

*Doing some work for charity but mostly fending off requests: I get so many people asking me to give them free artwork for various good causes. Very occasionally I'll do it, but I'm finding more and more that I need to pick my charity and stick with it, and only do this kind of artwork for people I work with very closely. Even answering all the requests just to say no can take a long time.



*Doing unpaid creative work for myself: I find that if I just fulfill work commissions, my artwork starts to look stiff and lifeless, and begins to take much longer to finish. I have to do practice work that no one judges to keep limber, like an athlete practices. This might look like goofing around, and it's often enjoyable, but it's still necessary for my work and it still takes time. This is the hardest thing to explain to, say, a spouse, when the house is messy and I haven't spend enough time with him, and sometimes it gets sacrificed because it looks too much like I'm just 'larking about'. Sometimes it's doing a morning sketch in the park (which I haven't done for AGES and really want to get back into). Sometimes it's making a comic book for a festival (such as the 24-Hour Comic Marathon) or taking part in an anthology.



* Blogging: I find I need to blog, to remind myself what I'm doing, what's important, and how I think about things. It's how I remember what I've done during the year, since I have a terrible memory. I might totally forget I did, say, the Kempston Library Festival, but if someone asks if I have, I can look it up on Google and think, oh yeah! I remember that, and now I remember all those people... I don't want to do all this stuff and then totally lose it all again in a fog of forgetfulness. My blog is basically my brain's hard drive. When I do it, I can spend anything from five minutes to two hours working on it, if I'm writing an article or adding lots of links.

* Supporting colleagues: Publishing just doesn't work for me if I only make my own stuff and shout about it. I need to find out what other people are doing, go along to their book launches, talk to people, show off what's good about their stuff, learn from them, bring people together, encourage others, etc. Britain's a small island in a huge global marketplace, and we can go much further working together to promote British books than if we only promote on our stuff. Besides, I trust someone much more if they say someone else's book is good, so we all take turns looking out for the good stuff and holding up the best things.



Travel: Besides the preparation involved in arranging travel, traveling itself takes time (sometimes nearly a full day) and can tire me out so badly I can't get straight back into work. I very rarely travel in fancy style, mostly it's carrying lots of bags and going through the tube and catching trains, etc, like anyone else would. At least with books, I don't usually have to carry ALL the books I plan to sell; comics people will often have to haul boxes of their own books to a convention, and that's exhausting. I do it very occasionally, but I try to avoid it as much as I can. (In those cases, usually I'll lose out on sales just so I can carry less books and feel all right when I arrive.)

* Invoicing: Usually this is straightforward but sometimes a event organiser or client will give me a huge stack of paperwork to fill out with random codes and numbers I've never heard of. I try to avoid this as much as I can, but it still happens. Occasionally I've missed out completely on getting paid because I couldn't get all the paperwork done on time, or I had no idea what to put in all the boxes. It's not as bad now that I have an agent; she deals with all the publisher invoices, but that still leaves all the event and non-book-artwork invoicing to do.



* Taxes: I have to file taxes in both the UK and USA. They have different tax years. I don't even want to go there, but they often try to charge me for taxes I don't owe and oh, headache, and huge piles of receipts. Also, earnings can vary wildly in this job; one year I might get lots of payments lumped together and the next year, very little. Don't even get me started on tax stuff, it's too depressing.

* Forms: Have I filled out my DACS form? Registered for this year's PLR? Dutch PLR? Irish PLR? (It's all to do with getting small amounts of money when people borrow my books from the library.) ACLS? Paid my SCBBWI & SoA membership? All those Internet things that I'm not even sure how they work? I usually forget to do one of these things.

* Working with my web designer to set things up for the website: I probably could have taught myself some basic Wordpress stuff but it's been more efficient having my friend Dan working on it. (I pay him a small retainer fee and he keeps up to date with website developments.)

* Campaigns: I've kind of fallen into various campaigns by accident, because they're so closely related to my work. One is all about saving libraries from government cuts. (For example, I helped kids from Budleigh Salterton make their video.) Another is the #PicturesMeanBusiness awareness campaign, to encourage people to credit illustrators along with writers of illustrated books. And I somehow got sucked last week into the #Copyright debates after I highlighted the Green Party policy document and my Twitter feed went into overdrive. I'm backing off from that one, but I want to keep supporting libraries and #PicturesMeansBusiness has achieved some things but still has a long way to go.



* Book launches: Sometimes my publicists organise these but often authors have to organise launches themselves. That involves finding a venue, deciding what to do at it, buying and transporting food and booze, sending out invitations, organising the book sales, trying to drum up some media interest, pestering people to come along.



* Award ceremonies: There are lots of small award ceremonies all around the country. Actually, Philip Reeve and I just made a video for an award we won in Switzerland! And I just heard about another award we won (yay!) but we're doing another event already that day and can't go to the ceremony so we'll probably make a video for that one, too. A lot of the award organisers want all the authors to come to the ceremony, like the Oscars, even though only one of them will win. To be honest, I wish they would just invite the winning author, keep them backstage, then call them forward when the award is announced. That would give more authors who haven't won time to work on their books. The authors who haven't won often get painfully under used, when they could have been doing full-on paid school events that day and inspiring lots of kids instead of sitting in a chair clapping for the winner. We don't ever want to seem ungrateful, but it is a whole day away from work, and not a day spent with our families.

* Big-time media: These invitations don't come very often, but if someone invites you to speak on Radio 4 or television, you WILL make time to do this, since it massively affects book sales. Writing articles for newspapers has less influence, but I'm pretty sure it's still worth doing.



* Serving on committees: I don't do this all the time, but occasionally it's the right thing to do, since I benefit from the work of a lot of committees. For the last three years, I've been a member of the Children's Writers & Illustrators Group committee at the Society of Authors. I'm retired now, but it was a good insight into how the SoA works. I went to meetings and helped plan the conference but I was always conscious that I was only putting in a tiny percentage of the work a lot of the members were doing; I tried to compensate by planning a few events for them. I have been on a couple other committees but at the end of the meetings, someone would look at me and say, 'Why are you the only person not going away and doing anything?' and I would get flustered (I just didn't have enough time to commit to anything!) and bow out of being on the committee. That's always embarrassing.



* Stock signing: Sometimes you just sit in a room and sign a lot of books. Which is cool, it means sales.




Stuff I'm not doing that I ought to be doing:

* Exercising properly: I KNOW that regular exercise it the key to keeping the brain working and the body healthy. And I am failing miserably at this. It didn't help that the studio was quite cold this winter and I was rewarding myself for hard work with snack treats.

* Domestic stuff: Our kitchen's falling apart. The cabinets are falling off the wall and the drawers are disintegrating. We need a new kitchen, but I just don't know when it's going to happen.

* Seeing friends: Argh, I really, REALLY need to get together more with friends.

* Relaxing: I almost never get a chance to watch telly or go to the cinema, and I'm not reading as many books as I'd like to. I'd really like to do more of that. I used to do a lot more cycling and hiking with my husband, and I miss that, too. A lot of festivals fall on the weekend.

* Thinking time: I used to have this but I forget what it is now.




Things other authors do that I don't do

* Sell original artwork: I know I could earn money doing this and I'm always having to turn down people who want to buy artwork. I just don't have the time to negotiate, track down the individual pieces, package them, and take them to the post office. I dream of hiring a manager who could do this for me.

* Deal in animation: I've had some requests from animators to work together, but I haven't had time to deal with it. Eek, slightly worried I haven't even answered some of the e-mails because I was so indecisive about how to respond.

* Legal disputes: Knock on wood, I haven't gotten into any big battles recently, mostly because I have a good agent who vets my contracts. But legal issues can take huge amounts of time, money and make it hard for people to work because they're so worried about them. Most illustrators I know who don't have agents (and even some who do) spend huge amounts of time chasing payments.

* Work in schools as a Patron of Reading: This involves several visits a year to a specific school, and working with the school. It's a good thing, I really ought to do it sometime.


Things I'd personally like to do but haven't yet found time yet to do

* A book based on in-depth research: I'd love to do a book based on a few months' research - I have some ideas in mind and one would involve staying in Nepal for a month or so - but they just don't fit into my book production schedule right now. (The production schedule is very much based around the two big annual book fairs, in Bologna and Frankfurt.)

* Make comic strips for The Phoenix Comic: I totally love what this comic is doing, it's just making full-colour comics takes me so long that I haven't been able to fit the work into my schedule.

* More comics workshops: I love doing workshops but they're tiring, take a lot of time and because of the small group numbers, they're not great for book sales. Since I'm running a business, I have to keep that in mind. But they're one of the most motivating ways to get kids writing and drawing that I've ever seen.

* Set up a template for schools running comics fairs, and help schools implement it. I think every school in the country could hugely benefit from running their own comics festival; every kid could self-publish a little stack of books, they could design a stall and promo material, and have a day when everyone runs a table and sells their books (possibly using money they design themselves). I'd love to try it out in a few schools, figure out what works best, then travel around helping school heads and teachers work out how to implement it. Each school could host a visiting author to inspire the kids and teach them how to make comics (or mini books), so it would give work to a lot of creators. Again, it would involve an enormous amount of time, and possibly need someone to write up a complicated funding proposal.



* Work in prisons: I think it would be amazing to do workshops with female prisoners, teaching them how to make little books and mini comics. They'd find ways of telling their own stories, and lots of them have kids; it would be great if they could make story books for their children. I think they'd get really into it.

* Set myself up as a travel-comic-for-hire creator. Get paid to make comics about interesting trips, how cool would that be?

Right... this list was a bit overwhelming! I absolutely love my job, but I find it overwhelming, too. I wish I could clone myself. I once wrote an article about my fleet of McIntyre clones, it was one of the most truthful essays I've ever written.



Don't forget, the job also involves making books! But I hope you can see that making books isn't just sitting around after that first book waiting for the money to come in. If it works that way for you, that's awesome, let me in on your secret!

You can read the earlier articles I wrote, concerning the Green Party Copyright debate here and here. Be sure to read the comments, especially writer Sophia McDougall's; I left a lot of the good arguing to these people.

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25. tea and jeopardy

Writer Emma Newman hosts the most excellent podcasts called Tea and Jeopardy with her butler, Latimer, and I got to dress up, visit their chequerboard palace and have a chat with them. And I got to bring along someone special...



Do have a listen! I have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on Emma's dulcet tones; she has the most melodic speaking voice you'll ever hear. She designs and wears gorgeous costumes, and we both outdid ourselves for this podcast. It's half an hour long, and be prepared for some Light Peril.



In other news:

Last night my studio mate Elissa Elwick and I went along to the House of Illustration to celebrate the launch of illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson and writer Cerrie Burnell's new picture book, Mermaid. I've known Laura from her excellent work on Evil Emperor Penguin in The Phoenix Comic, and Stuart and I met Cerrie (who also works as a CBeebies presenter) when we were up at the Manchester Children's Book Festival last year.



Here's World Book Day UK director Kirsten Grant and my fab editor at Scholastic UK, Pauliina Malinen.




Cerrie's daughter and I drew a mermaid together:



Congratulations, Cerrie, Laura and the whole Scholastic gang!

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